Lindsey Burke propped her feet up on the dash and slurped on a watered-down soda. She stared out her window at the blur of green hues from the trees and grass flashing by. Sighing heavily and throwing her silky blonde hair back against the beige, pleather headrest, she glanced over to her mother in the driver’s seat. Sherri Burke’s tight perm and loose brown ponytail bobbed up and down as she drove. Studying her mother’s face, Lindsey wondered when she’d gotten wrinkles and if her mouth was always so taut, or if it was just when she was driving and concentrating on the road. Maybe it was because, this time, they weren’t just driving… they were leaving.
The moment her mother had come home from work and her father was, once again, nowhere to be seen, Lindsey knew drastic changes were in the air. He’d been ‘working late’ almost every day for nearly a month now. Lindsey was only fourteen, and even she could see how bad that must look to her mother. Her worst fears were confirmed when she’d seen the suitcases. Her’s and her mother's belongings were frantically thrown into a haphazard pile inside the old luggage. Conflicted, Lindsey watched as her mother sobbed, and helped her pack in silence.
They’d loaded up their 1965 maroon, two-door Sedan and headed off before her father had even returned from… wherever he was. Lindsey was sad to leave her father behind, but she’d always been especially close to her mother. Her father, Dr. Silas Burke, was a severe and distant man with whom she didn’t seem to have much in common. Glancing back out the window, Lindsey watched as the landscape became less and less familiar. Sherri had been lost in thought for nearly an hour. She’d seemed to have been driving aimlessly until she took the exit for Highway 95.
Curiosity bolstered her courage, and Lindsey worked up the nerve to break the tension, “So... where are we going, Mom?”
Sherri took her eyes off the road for just a moment to flash a reassuring smile at her daughter. “Tampa. We’re going to Tampa. Is that okay with you?” she asked with sincerity.
“I… guess. What’s in Tampa?” She really wanted to ask about her father. Were they going to get a divorce? Would she ever see him again? Would he even want to see them? These, and a million other questions swam through her mind, but she pushed them aside, trying to concentrate on her mother’s answer.
“More like - who’s in Tampa?” Sherri replied cryptically.
“Okay, then… who’s in Tampa?” The mystery deepened. Lindsey knew her mother was born in Florida, but that was all she’d been told of her past. There’d been no reason to ask, either. Her maternal grandparents had passed away long before Lindsey was born, and Sherri had been an only child. As far as Lindsey knew, there was no one in Tampa except old, retired people.
“Well, believe it or not, I used to be pretty popular back in my day.” A soft smile played on Sherri’s lips as she recalled her youth, “I had quite a few friends, and I was really close with some of them. It’s been a long time, but I’m sure, once I explain everything, there will be a place for us there.”
“You’re talking about a boyfriend, aren’t you?!” Lindsey exclaimed in disbelief. “Isn’t that a little fast? You’ve just left Dad and, yeah, he was a jerk to you, but that’s, like, fast, isn’t it?”
Sherri raised a brow and smirked, “Look at you, understanding the nuances of relationships! Yes, it’s a man. No, he is not my boyfriend, although once upon a time, we were pretty intimate.”
“Gross! Mom, stop! I really don’t need to hear this.”
Chuckling, Sherri slowed down to let another car pass. “Listen, sweetie,” she said, getting serious, “This man. He wasn’t just a boyfriend. I was madly in love with him.”
Lindsey paused, unsure of what to make of this revelation. “Well… what happened? Why didn’t you marry him instead of Daddy?”
“I should have. If I was smarter, I would’ve. But, back then, I thought the most important thing was to marry well. There was another man who’d expressed interest in me. He was a doctor who ate lunch where I was waitressing tables. He was nice and handsome, and he flirted with me shamelessly. I told him I had a boyfriend, but he didn’t care. He was relentless.”
“That was Daddy?”
“Yep. He used to have charm. He must’ve hit his peak back then, I guess.”
“Well, what happened next? Why’d you leave your boyfriend for the doctor?”
Swallowing past a visible lump in her throat, Sherri answered, “Because I was selfish and stupid. My parents hated my boyfriend. He played guitar and smoked cigarettes. They couldn’t see past his rough exterior to the gentleman who was inside. Instead, they pushed me toward the distinguished professional - your dad. When I found out I was pregnant, I... took their advice. What could a penniless musician have to offer that a wealthy doctor couldn’t easily provide?” She sighed heavily, “Now, I know - love.”
“Waaaait a minute. Are you trying to tell me that Daddy isn’t my real father?! My real dad is some bad-boy, rockstar wannabe?! Is this real life right now?!” Lindsey didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or be angry. Surprisingly, she felt as if she’d gained something, rather than the feeling of loss one might expect.
“It most certainly is real life. And, that’s not what I’m trying to tell you. I am telling you. Your real dad’s name is Jesse Blythe.”
“How... why…,” at a loss for words, Lindsey stared blankly at her mother. Her disbelief was almost palpable.
“Lindsey, you and I have always been so close, and I am so proud of our bond. This was my mistake - a huge mistake. And I am so sorry I hurt you.”
Lindsey’s mind whirled. She wondered what her ‘real’ father looked like, what he sounded like, did he have blonde hair like her? She couldn’t help but feel a bit of pity for the man they were leaving behind. Even if he’d been a shoddy father figure, at least he’d been there. Now, the man she’d called ‘Dad’ her whole life was but a shadow in her past. She knew her mother loved her more than anything. There was nothing to forgive there.
“Don’t worry, Mom. I’m not mad. Just… kinda shocked?”
“Well, I don’t blame you there. Just imagine how Jesse’s about to feel.”
The realization hit Lindsey like a sledgehammer to the face. “You mean you never told him about me?!” She gasped, “He doesn’t even know you were pregnant?”
“No. He just thinks I met someone else and moved on.”
“Oh, Mom! You really have made a mess of things, haven’t you?”
“I sure have. I’m so glad I have you here to help me clean it all up.”
Lindsey and her mother spent the next 12 hours chatting about Jesse and what it had been like growing up in Tampa. They sang along to the radio, ate a few too many drive-thru burritos, and finally reached Tampa by nightfall.
As they came upon Exit 45, Sherri motioned toward a hotel information sign on the side of the road. “Looks like there’s a Motel 6 up ahead. What do you say we stay the night there? We can look for Jesse in the morning.”
“Sounds fine to me,” Lindsey replied, covering her mouth as she yawned.
Sherri pulled the boxy vehicle onto the exit and stopped at a red light. They could see the blue-and-red lighted sign for the Motel 6 from the stoplight. It sat next to a 24-hour gas station with a dimly lit parking lot.
“Are you hungry, Lindsey?”
“A little. Are we going on a snack run before bed?” Lindsey stretched and sat up straighter in her seat.
“Might as well. I’m getting tired of burritos, aren’t you?” Sherri pulled the dark red car into the parking lot, sliding into a spot by a black pickup in front of the doors.
“No. I could eat a hundred burritos a day and still not be tired of them.”
Sherri rolled her eyes and laughed, “Yeah. Okay. Maybe we’ll put that to the test one day.”
“Challenge accepted! Do they have burritos here?”
“Oh, good grief, child! I was kidding! Come on. Let’s go get some donuts or something.”
Sherri and Lindsey opened their doors and went into the gas station. When they returned, they were laden with donuts, chips, cookies, and fresh sodas. Sherri put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking lot. Within seconds, they were parking again in the lot of the Motel 6 next door.
Check-in was over in a few moments, and Sherri grabbed their room key and bags. Lindsey followed close behind her mother, carrying their snacks and sodas. When they got to their room, they munched and sipped their sodas while watching some late-night T.V. Within twenty minutes, they were both sleeping soundly in their beds.
With the dawn came the nerves. Both Lindsey and Sherri got ready in near silence. When Lindsey asked her mother for the toothpaste, her voice sounded almost robotic. When they were finally dressed, they headed to check out and piled everything back into the trunk of the car. Closing the massive hood, Sherri paused a moment and took a deep breath.
“All packed, Mom?” Lindsey called from the passenger seat. Buckling her belt, she wondered what the future might hold for them. Without answering her daughter’s question, Sherri walked to the driver’s side and got in. She slid the keys into the ignition and flicked them forward.
“Ready?” Sherri attempted to sound lighthearted and optimistic but her voice quivered, betraying her fear.
Lindsey eyed her mother, her eyebrows furrowing with concern, “I don’t know, Mom. Are you ready?”
With the engine running, Sherri’s hand hovered over the gearstick. “Probably not,” she admitted after a moment, “but, what the hell. Shall we?”
“I guess so.” Lindsey’s stomach did a somersault and she suddenly felt sick. Glancing over at her mother’s pale face and saucer-wide eyes, she guessed she was feeling much the same. They drove in silence for a few minutes. It didn’t feel right to turn on the radio. This was no longer an adventure. They were nearing the end of their road trip, and, when they found Jesse Blythe, they would find out whether or not they were wanted here.
The thought of rejection made Lindsey sick. After fourteen years of being the daughter of Dr. Silas Burke, she was now hovering - rootless. More than anything, she hoped to be accepted. If Jesse were to turn them away, how would that affect her relationship with her mother? Where would they even go? Lindsey tried to push these thoughts away. Looking out her window, she watched as the scenery became more and more residential. Finally, they pulled into a cul-de-sac. Rubrik Drive, the sign read.
Sherri pulled their dusty car to the farthest house in the bend. It was an old, brick house with pastel yellow curtains hanging in the windows and a light blue, four-door Chevy parked in the driveway. White peace lilies were growing along the front of the house, and a birdbath had been placed in the front yard. Lindsey watched as a blue jay swooped down to the bath and began splashing around in the crystal clear water.
Smiling, Lindsey turned to tell her mother about the bird. Sherri, however, was staring blankly ahead at the blue Chevy. There was nothing special about the car. It was easily twenty years old and even dirtier than their car after the long trip. Still, Sherri couldn’t peel her eyes away from it.
Lindsey tapped her mother’s shoulder, “Mom? Are you okay?”
Sherri blinked and shook her head, snapping out of her reverie. She turned to Lindsey and smiled, though her expression seemed far away. “I’m fine, Linds. This is the place.” She took a deep breath and seemed to refocus, “Are you ready?”
Grabbing her mother’s hand, Lindsey stopped her before she could open the door. “Mom?”
“What is it, sweetie? Are you scared?”
“Well, a little. But, mostly… I just wanted to say no matter what happens… we’ll be okay. Okay?”
Sherri was momentarily stunned. She hadn’t expected Lindsey to be so understanding about everything. Just now, she’d shown so much maturity, Sherri couldn’t help but be proud of her daughter. Blinking back happy tears, she replied, “Okay, sweetheart. Thank you for being the very best thing that’s ever happened to me. I don’t know what I would do without my sweet girl.”
Mother and daughter embraced warmly before exiting the vehicle. Lindsey waited for her mother and, together, they walked up to the front door, hand in hand. Sherri hesitated only a moment, locking eyes and exchanging a reassuring smile with Lindsey. Lindsey inclined her head toward the door, silently encouraging her mother. With a trembling hand, Sherri lifted the gilded knocker and rapped three times.
There came a shuffling from the other side of the white panel door. A chair could be heard scraping across a hardwood floor and then, footsteps. Heavy feet fell slowly as they neared the front door. Lindsey saw a flash of yellow to her right. She was sure someone had just peeked out of the curtains. Her heart thudded in her chest and sweat formed on her upper lip. The hand which held her mothers’ was balmy, too, though it could easily have been due to either of their nerves.
The footsteps stopped, and the doorknob began to turn. Sherri squeezed her daughter’s hand. Lindsey squeezed back, holding her breath. The door was finally opened by a tall, very tan man with short, blonde hair and bright blue eyes. He eyed them with confusion for a moment.
Sherri recognized him right away. “Hi, Jesse,” she said shyly.
Jesse’s expression switched from being puzzled to one of shock, “Sherri?! Is that you?! Holy mother! What in the world are you doing here?!” Backing up, Jesse extended a muscular arm, “Please, come in! Come in! How have you been?”
Sherri and Lindsey followed Jesse into the quaint little house at the end of the cul-de-sac. Sherri did the best she could at explaining her terrible mistake those many years ago. In tears, she begged for his forgiveness. Jesse took one look at Sherri and Lindsey and welcomed them into his heart and his life with open arms. In later years, Lindsey would see Dr. Burke again, though she no longer bore his name. She was now Lindsey Blythe and was not overly surprised when the good doctor showed little interest in what had happened to them since they’d left him behind.
Sherri and Jesse lived long and happy lives, retiring in Hawaii and visiting Lindsey on the mainland whenever possible. Occasionally, Sherri and Lindsey reflect back on that life-changing road trip. Each time they do, they realize how much they learned about life, love, and each other during that one, long car ride.